I Mean… ‘Blade Runner 2049’ at Least Looks Nice…

Blade_Runner_2049_logoBetween needing to reprise his roles for “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones” and now “Blade Runner,” I forget just how influential Harrison Ford was to 1980s cinema.

“Blade Runner 2049” is the sequel to the 1982 cult classic and features Harrison Ford returning as ex-LAPD detective Rick Deckard. Ryan Gosling also stars alongside Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright and Jared Leto as Denis Villeneuve directs.

Denis Villeneuve’s films are an overall mixed bag with me. They’re all slow burns to varying degrees of success— “Prisoners” is fantastic, “Sicario” is pretty solid and “Arrival” was a letdown—but his films are never boring. “Blade Runner 2049” bucks that trend, as for as gorgeously produced and well-acted as it is, its monotonous pacing does little to benefit it in the end.

In preparation for this I finally got around to watching the original “Blade Runner” and overall I enjoyed it. It certainly has some slow points and the ending is somewhat sudden, but it’s easy to see why it is a cultural staple. So after “2049” was getting rave reviews I got excited because we’ve had 35 years between films, so the studio has had time to develop a worthy story and the visuals should improve upon the already groundbreaking bar set by the original. Unfortunately, there is little to care about in this film besides how it looks.

Ryan Gosling plays K, a “replicant” (bioengineered human) working with the LAPD to hunt down outdated replicants from the past. Gosling is essentially playing his character from “Drive,” being stoic and darkly charming as only Ryan Gosling can be, and he’s fine in the role; it’s one of the few times in recent memory I can think of him needing to carry this much of a film on his shoulders and he steps up to the task.

Most every other actor in the film feels underutilized. Robin Wright plays K’s police boss and she is mainly there to yell at him and spout exposition. Jared Leto plays a billionaire replicant manufacturer and he has only three scenes and I am convinced Leto didn’t know he was being filmed; the crew just showed up to his house where he was wearing a kimono. And Harrison Ford almost feels like he was only in here just as a way to bridge the two films not as a needed member of the plot, as fun as it always is to see him growl.

And this gets me to another point: much of this film just feels like plot exposition. Characters only interact with Gosling to get him from one scene to the next, it’s not organic. In the first film, Deckard drinks at a bar, he interacts with the world’s inhabitants; here, Gosling talks to a main character, gets the info he needs and is on his way. Cut to next scene. This has no right being 163 minutes and there’s an easy half hour they could’ve trimmed.

The film looks incredible, there is no denying that. 13-time Academy Award nominee Roger Deakins (who worked with Villeneuve on “Sicario” which earned him a nod) should finally win his Oscar for this, because everything about this film, from the sandstorm-ridden Las Vegas casinos to the vast snow coated future Los Angeles metropolis to the shiny LAPD headquarters, is incredible. I saw this in IMAX and there were times I was dumbfounded by what I was looking at and for a moment forgot the plot was losing me because I was getting lost in Deakins’ vision. The powerful score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, while at times too loud over dialogue, is equally as impactful and skillful.

From a craftsmen perspective, it is hard to make a better looking and sounding film than “Blade Runner 2049,” which is why is crushes me that I just didn’t care about what was going on for much of the film. The first half’s slow burn detective tale had me interested enough, and had the film had some great twist or payoff then I would say the second half’s grinding pace could be forgiven, but it never came. Suddenly we are thrown into the climax (much like the first film) before things just kind of…end.

If you loved the first “Blade Runner” then I’m sure you’ll like this but if you have never seen it or aren’t a fan, then I’m not so sure. Maybe this is “Mad Max: Fury Road” all over again where I am in the minority of people who aren’t willing to forgive narrative flaws for incredible visuals, and who knows, maybe tomorrow or in 35 years I wake up and realize this is a masterpiece. But as it stand now, “Blade Runner 2049” is just…alright.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Warner Bros.

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